DES MOINES, IOWA — The founder of the Starts Right Here education center in Des Moines took the stand on Friday in the trial of Preston Walls, a former student accused of killing two classmates and injuring Keeps in a shooting in January at the center.

Walls is charged with two counts of First Degree Murder for the shooting deaths of Gionni Dameron and Rashad Carr on January 23rd, 2023. He is also charged with Attempted Murder, Willful Injury and Criminal Gang Participation. The shooting happened inside the educational center that Keeps founded and where the three teens had been classmates.

Will James Thomas – who is known by the stage name Will Keeps – was called to testify to begin the afternoon. He was shot in the hand and leg on January 23rd and has undergone numerous surgeries to repair the damage.

Keeps, a Chicago-native, told the court how he came to Des Moines and founded the Starts Right Here education center. Keeps says he was molested as a child by his stepfather which led him to find security in a street gang. Keeps says he came to Des Moines in his twenties to escape his violent life in Chicago and was eventually inspired to start a school to help metro youth escape their violent lifestyles. The school catered to students who were at risk of expulsion from public schools.

Keeps testified that part of the curriculum at Starts Right Here was access to a music recording studio and video production equipment. Keeps says students were allowed to use violent imagery and language in their music if it was used to create an uplifting message. It was through the access to this equipment that the January that Dameron and Carr were involved in the creation of a “dis track” and music video – making disrespectful comments about a rival gang with which Walls was affiliated.

Keeps says he was aware of the “dis track” and video and that he talked with all sides and believed that all involved had “squashed” their disagreement.

Keeps says that the morning of January 23rd, 2023 was a typical day at the education. He remembers seeing Gionni Dameron, Rashad Carr and Preston Walls that morning attending classes.

Keeps says in the moments before the shooting, he was in a great room in the back of the facility with students, including Dameron, Carr and Wells. Keeps says Walls left the room at some point then returned moments later with his hand high inside his jacket. Keeps says he sensed something was wrong and walked towards Walls and tried to escort him from the room. But Keeps testified that Walls ducked away from him, drew a handgun then shot Rashad Carr then Gionni Dameron. Keeps says Walls then turned the gun on him – shooting him in the thigh and hand.

Keeps says Walls then returned to both Dameron and Carr – shooting both teens again – before he fled the building.

Jurors were then shown surveillance video of the shooting from multiple angles inside the school that played out just as Keeps described.

An attorney for Walls suggested in opening statements on Thursday that Walls may have acted because he felt threatened.

Walls allegedly fled from the scene of the shooting in a car driven by Bravon Tukes. Tukes is also charged with two counts of First Degree Murder. His trial is scheduled to begin on October 2nd.